This is a sordid story with a happy ending. It tells how the deep-pocketed charter industry tried to silence and discredit a scholar who disagreed with them. The story appears in the Nonprofit Quarterly.
Professor Julia Sass Rubin is an associate professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. She has researched charter schools in New Jersey, and one of her studies concluded that charter schools in the state were not serving the same demographic as public schools. She is also an active leader in the Save Our Schools New Jersey organization.
The New Jersey Charter Schools Association did not like her research. They particularly did not like a study she published in October 2014, demonstrating that charter schools enrolled smaller numbers of students with disabilities, English language learners, and poor children as compared with the public schools in the same school district.
They might have challenged her to a debate. They didn’t. They might have published a response, challenging her facts. They didn’t.
Instead the New Jersey Charter Schools Association registered complaints against her with the New Jersey State Ethics Commission charging that she had violated the state’s Conflict of Interest Law and its Uniform Ethics Code. It also complained to Rutgers University that she had violated the Rutgers Code and Policies for faculty employees.
In other words, they sought to destroy her reputation and her career.
The state board of ethics made no ruling. The university reported that there was no evidence for the charges against Professor Rubin. She was vindicated but it took two years.
Professor Rubin was the intended victim of a SLAPP lawsuit. This is defined in Wikipedia as:
“A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition. Such lawsuits have been made illegal in many jurisdictions on the grounds that they impede freedom of speech.
“The typical SLAPP plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff’s goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. In some cases, repeated frivolous litigation against a defendant may raise the cost of directors and officers liability insurance for that party, interfering with an organization’s ability to operate. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate. A SLAPP is often preceded by a legal threat.”
As Martin Levine writes in TNQ, more was at stake than Professor Rubin’s reputation.
“This story came to a happy end. After the state board made no finding, the university found none of the allegations were supported by the evidence. Yet, this remains a cautionary tale. The ease with which political opponents can make the debate personal can have a very chilling effect.
“We ended our piece two years ago with a challenge to others to speak out in defense of free, fact-based speech: “We’re waiting for state and national nonprofit associations to speak out against this travesty, as they should, and stand up for the core nonprofit value of free speech.” While Professor Rubin’s reputation and ability to freely go on with her important work has been upheld, it is more important than ever for others to speak loudly. As we see scientists removed from advisory panels and facts that don’t support political beliefs discarded, the collective voice is still critical.”
For her refusal to be intimidated, for defending the rights of others to write and speak without fear, I add Julia Sass Rubin to the honor roll of this blog. She really should be honored by the American Association of Universities, the ACLU, People for the American Way, and others who are passionate about protecting our freedoms.
from sarah http://ift.tt/2qPWYEF